Operator 13 (1934): Boleslawski’s Pre-Code Oscar-Nominated Feature, Starring Marion Davies and Gary Cooper

Richard Boleslawski directed Operator 13 a pre-Code romance, starring Marion Davies (who gets top billing), Gary Cooper, and Jean Parker.

Operator 13
Operator 13 1934 Poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Based on stories written by Robert W. Chambers, the film concerns a Union spy who impersonates a black maid in the early days of the Civil War.

Complications arise when she falls in love with a Confederate officer.

George J. Folsey was nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar.

The film features the Four Mills Brothers and Davies performing musical numbers.

The supporting cast includes Ted Healy, Douglas Dumbrille as Jeb Stuart, Sidney Toler as Allan Pinkerton, Fuzzy Knight, and an uncredited Sterling Holloway as a wounded Union soldier.

Narrative Premise:

In the American Civil War, Union forces reel after defeat in the Second Battle of Bull Run. The Pauline Cushman Players are performing for wounded soldiers at a Union military hospital. Pauline, a spy who works for Allan Pinkerton, recommends her close friend showgirl Gail to become a spy for the Union cause as Operator 13 (the previous Operator 13 having been caught and shot).

The film was a commercial flop at the box-office.


Directed by Richard Boleslawski
Produced by Lucien Hubbard
Screenplay by Harvey F. Thew, Zelda Sears, Eve Greene, story b Robert W. Chambers
Music by William Axt
Cinematography George J. Folsey
Edited by Frank Sullivan

Production and distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: June 8, 1934 (USA)

Running time: 85 minutes


TCM showed this rarely seen movie on April 20, 2021.